Sen. Jim Inhofe wants flexibility for Pentagon if deep cuts occur

By Chris Casteel,

WASHINGTON — Sen. Jim Inhofe has authored legislation that would give Pentagon leaders rare flexibility with their funding if automatic budget cuts are triggered in early March.

Inhofe, of Tulsa, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Wednesday he is still working to stop the cuts. However, he said military leaders should have the authority to determine how those cuts are made if they go into effect.

His legislation would allow them to transfer money across their many accounts to balance out the impacts.

Inhofe said he presented his proposal to key Senate Republicans and had discussed it with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat.

The cuts, known as sequestration, were the result of the 2011 deal to raise the debt ceiling. They were set to go into effect in January but were delayed until early March. Of the $1 trillion in cuts over a decade, the Pentagon would bear $500 billion, while the rest would be spread over other departments, including Education and Homeland Security.

Should the cuts go into effect, the military would have to cut nearly $50 billion over the next few months. Pentagon leaders have said civilian furloughs would likely be mandated and training and maintenance curtailed significantly.

An analysis prepared for Inhofe on the worst-case scenario for Oklahoma’s military bases warned that thousands of civilians would be furloughed, flight training and artillery training curtailed and aircraft maintenance at Tinker Air Force Base’s massive repair depot scaled back dramatically.

Inhofe said he was worried about the impact furloughs would have on civilian workers’ paychecks.

“Most people live pretty close to the line,” he said.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday that President Barack Obama wants a balanced approach to replacing the $1 trillion in cuts, meaning he wants more revenue, potentially from changes in the tax code.

Carney said the president “has put forward a good-faith proposal that met Republicans more than halfway in the effort to achieve significant deficit reduction in a responsible, balanced way that doesn’t allow for the across-the-board cuts in defense or nondefense spending that everybody understands to be a bad thing.

“And we look forward to working with Republicans and Democrats to enact that approach, because it’s the right thing to do.”